Inside the Intensity

A look at the Intensive English Language Program at FPU

The Intensive English Language Program (IELP) here at Fresno Pacific may be a lesser known feature of the school for many of its students. Nonetheless, it has a pivotal role and considerable impact, as it prepares potentially degree-seeking students for English fluency. Like most successful programs, the IELP depends heavily on the people who comprise it. I had the opportunity to interview one such person: Kelly Schroeder. Schroeder is the program director and has worked with the IELP at Fresno Pacific for many years.

Schroeder’s passion for her students and their progress was evident from the beginning of our interview, and she was able to clarify the function and nature of the program for me:

Not only does it exist for international students, but also domestic students who need to learn English before enrolling in a degree program at Fresno Pacific. 

Its purpose is to get students to a point of academic language proficiency, so that they can enter into their academic degree program” Schroeder said. In order to prove their proficiency students must pass an exam, such as the IELTS or TOEFL. 

Schroeder explained that while the IELP can use a variety of exams such as the IELTS, “the United States tends to rely on the TOEFL – Test Of English as a Foreign Language. It is an American based exam by ETS; the same folks who do SAT, CLEP and other college level exam placement.” The IELP prepares students to pass these tests so that they can be ready for their respective degree programs, Bachelor’s or Master’s. The students who go through the intensive program are not limited to attending FPU: they can matriculate in their university of choice after completing the program. 

Schroeder also noted that, even after completing the intensive program and entering into their degree, students are still offered linguistic support—sometimes in the form of courses— that “goes beyond a composition course.” Students can also retroactively apply some credit from the IELP program as electives to their degree program. 

Although FPU has many international athletes, the IELP program has not had a single athlete in recent years as a result of its switch from NAIA to NCAA collegiate sports divisions. In the NCAA division, athletes are required to already have a declared major, so only students that do not need the IELP are eligible. Schroeder mentioned that at first “It was a real hit for some of the teams, but the teams have managed to recruit athletes with academic English proficiency, and it has worked out.”

Most students will come into the program with at least basic knowledge of English, but Schroeder informed me that some students will very rarely come in Ab Initio, which is Latin for ‘from the beginning’, for which the English equivalent would be ‘starting from scratch’. These students come in with no English language ability, but are able to make progress quickly regardless due to the program’s fast-paced structure and immersive design.

Schroeder said that “Motivation is the single most important factor in learning a second language, and so if you are motivated enough to travel across the world, you are going to do it; it is going to happen.”

The program is also more directly affected by world events than most other FPU populations. National and international politics, as well as the US’ appearance in the international eye can have an effect on which countries international students come from. Foreign wars, disputes and, of course, COVID-19 have impacted the program’s enrollment significantly. 

There is high student turnover as each student is usually in the program no longer than a year, or year and a half. The IELP staff want their students to go through the program quickly as this is a sign of its efficacy, but Schroeder mentioned that forming relationships with their students is an important part of their program. Subsequently, it is difficult to say goodbye to students so often because they constantly cycle through and move on to their next goal. Despite this, Schroeder asserted how rewarding it still is to know the students and be a part of their foray into academic life, even if just for a short time. 

One thing that makes the IELP unique is its diverse nature as a program: every student represents a different culture and walk of life. I got the opportunity to speak with Bénédiction (Benny) Kitenge. She is an international student who has gone through the IELP program and is now a Degree Completion student at FPU, studying Business Administration with a focus on management. Coming from Congo and speaking both French and Swahili, Kitenge shared some of her early thoughts about what it was like to start the program: “It was a really hard time for me to adapt to this country because I didn’t know the language, and then I got to the program and everyone was speaking English, no one spoke French. So how can I learn if I don’t know how to speak English? That was my question.” Kitenge shared how there were times when she didn’t want to do her challenging homework or watch required films in English. Even her roommates had to use Google Translate. Despite such initial difficulty, however, Kitenge noted that she was eventually able to get past the hurdle of having no English vocabulary and ultimately made real progress. “Thank God I had the best teachers,” Kitenge stated. She spoke especially highly of her grammar teacher, Shannon.

When asked what she would like to do when she gets her degree, Kitenge said: “I really want to be a businesswoman. I’ve loved traveling since I was small; that’s why I’m here!” She claimed that she would love to open and own a small business specializing in women’s beauty products, such as hair and makeup. When asked if and how the IELP program helped her get closer to her goals, Kitenge laughed before giving the all too obvious answer that it certainly did: it successfully taught her her English, after all. Kitenge explained that without the IELP program, “I couldn’t go to my undergraduate program; I’d be stuck over there.”

Kitenge is a great example of how students who have gone through the IELP program are able to open more doors with their English fluency. When asked if she had any advice for students who are in the program currently, she said: “It’s a really good program, but you have to focus. It’s not like you can just go to class and then go to bed and sleep. You have to do research sometimes, go to YouTube, and then try to read a lot of books.” She also advised learners to watch movies and type out the subtitles, saying that some words can look similar to other languages, such as French, but their pronunciation and meaning can be quite different. 

Students like Kitenge that go through the IELP program at FPU go on to a host of different careers. Not only are these students able to pursue their educational and career goals, but they become multilingual; a huge advantage in itself in an increasingly interconnected world. The IELP at Fresno pacific proves that a motivated student with enough support can surmount any language barrier, no matter how tall.

Author: Timothy Myracle | Features Editor

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